B1551. RUTH ST. DENIS. Ruth St. Denis – An Unfinished Life [Autobiography]. New York, Harper, 1939. 391pp. Index; Photos.
“Ruth St. Denis was a modern dance pioneer, introducing eastern ideas into the art. She was co-founder of the American Denishawn School of Dance and the teacher of several notable performers. Ruth Dennis was raised on a small farm in New Jersey, where she was drilled by her mother in physical exercises developed by François Delsarte. This was the beginning of St. Denis’ dance training and was instrumental in developing her technique later in life. In 1894, after years of practicing Delsarte poses, she débuted as a skirt dancer for Worth’s Family Theater and Museum. From this modest start, she progressed to touring with an acclaimed producer and director, David Belasco, under whom her stage name, ‘St. Denis’, was created. While touring in Belasco’s production of MADAME DUBARRY in 1904 St. Denis’s life was changed.
St. Denis was at a drugstore with another member of Belasco’s company in Buffalo, New York, when she saw a poster advertising Egyptian Deities cigarettes. The poster portrayed the Egyptian goddess Isis enthroned in a temple; this image captivated St. Denis on the spot and inspired her to create dances that expressed the mysticism that the goddess’s image conveyed. From then on, St. Denis was immersed in Oriental philosophies. In 1905, St. Denis left Belasco’s company to begin her career as a solo artist. St. Denis believed dance to be a spiritual expression and her choreography reflected this idea.
In 1911, a young dancer named Ted Shawn saw St. Denis perform in Denver; it was artistic love at first sight. In 1914, Shawn applied to be her student, and soon became her artistic partner and husband. Together they founded Denishawn, the ‘cradle of American modern dance’. One of her more famous pupils was Martha Graham. At Denishawn, St. Denis served as inspiration to her young students, while Shawn taught the technique classes. St. Denis and Shawn were known for their ‘oriental’ productions. Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn were also instrumental in creating the legendary dance festival, Jacob's Pillow.”
- Zillah Dorset Akron